When the coronavirus pandemic forced him to cancel his European and UK spring tour, Canadian singer-songwriter Jerry Leger turned a negative situation into a positive one by hastily putting together a brand new, digital-only album called Songs From The Apartment.
Available to buy from Bandcamp, it’s made up of ‘lost’ songs from 2013- 2018 that he’d demoed and quickly forgotten about.
It’s a brilliant collection of intimate Americana and Dylanesque folk-blues tracks.
The loose, raw and lo-fi recordings really hang together well as an album, and, if anything, it demonstrates that Jerry’s discarded songs are better than many artists’ officially released ones.
In an exclusive interview from his apartment in Toronto, Jerry tells Say It With Garage Flowers how he pulled the album together so quickly, reveals details of a series of forthcoming online gigs streamed live on Facebook and suggests a suitable soundtrack for these days of isolation…
How’s it going? Are you safe? What’s the situation like in Toronto?
Jerry Leger: I’m well and doing what I can to stay safe and keep my distance during the handful of times I’ve had to leave my apartment. A state of emergency was announced in Toronto and everything is changing by the day – stores and other places are closing and there are more guidelines for what we need to do to protect ourselves and others. It’s a good thing to help us get through this as soon as possible.
Sadly the coronavirus has meant you’ve had to postpone your UK and European tour. How do you feel about that? What impact has it had on you financially?
JL: Well, it was a major blow, very disappointing and, as you can imagine, financially devastating. It’s being rescheduled for next spring – I’m hoping that things will have settled down by then. Of course, our health is the number one priority for all of us, but it is very stressful. You’re dealing with how the present has been affected and worrying about how the future looks.
After a few days I was able to calm my mind down a bit and not worry about things too far into the future. All it does is create more anxiety and I have enough of that already. The virus has put a lot of things into perspective for me. My girlfriend Laura has helped a lot and I’ve also been coping by staying busy and by thinking of creative things I can do from home.
I started the year off by catching up on a lot of reading and also writing more, so I’m gonna do more of that and get back to sketching, which I find stress relieving.
How are you coping with being indoors all the time?
JL: I’ve actually been enjoying it to some degree. I haven’t cracked up yet! After my big European and UK tour was postponed and Canadian dates were cancelled, the first few days of recommended isolation were spent dealing with that and what to do next.
I had started the year off writing a bunch of songs, but, of course, the pandemic put my creativity on hold. I’m easing back into the mindset for when the mood and inspiration strikes.
Can you recommend any songs for the period of isolation? What’s your soundtrack?
JL: I’ve had Gordon Lightfoot on – it’s comforting for me. It’s hard to say though, ‘cos I’m always listening to records if I’m home and now I’m home a lot, so a lot of records have been played.
I had Ray Charles, Irma Thomas and Kris Kristofferson on last night. For the first few days, I had a lot of Beatles and solo Beatles on, ‘cos I also find that comforting in moments of deep worry.
The first song I was ever obsessed with was In My Life, around the age of four. As I’m writing this, I have King Of America by Elvis Costello on.
Great choice! One of the positive things that’s emerged from the crisis is that you’ve released a new digital-only album, Songs From The Apartment, via Bandcamp. How did you manage to turn the project around so quickly?
JL: I thought it would be cool to release a surprise album and I had folders and folders of demos for songs that had never seen the light of day.
I think I needed a distraction last week after dealing with so much. I started listening to some of the tracks and heard a lot of merit in them. I also loved how relaxed, intimate and raw they were. I thought it was good timing, with a lot of us having to be indoors. We’re all in it together.
A fan sent me a message saying that he loved the sound of it – he said it sounded like I was right there in the room with him.
I put it together last Thursday [March 19] and chose 10 songs that I thought really worked. My buddy Aaron Comeau helped with EQing and doing the levels on them. The photo for the cover – by LPPhotographs – was one that I always loved. I always saw it as a cover and it worked perfectly ‘cos I’m sitting in my apartment with my acoustic guitar.The album is made up of unreleased songs you had lying around. Are there a lot of songs in your vaults? Was it easy to choose which songs to include?
JL: Yeah – there are a lot of songs that I have recorded in demo form and also some studio outtakes for that matter. I just write all of the time – I don’t hunker down and write the next album in a cabin somewhere.
A bunch of the tunes I don’t even remember writing, which made it fun to listen to and put together. It also made it easier to choose certain ones ‘cos I’d have a less bias opinion coming back to them if they were good or not.
‘I write all of the time – I don’t hunker down and write the next album in a cabin somewhere’
I think they’re all from the period of 2015-2018, except Leaving Now, which is from 2013. There are some that stayed in the back of mind as being good, but I doubted I’d return to them for a future album ‘cos time changes that for me.
I’m more focused and excited about what I’m writing in the moment. This worked perfectly putting the collection together.
Your ‘lost’ songs are better than a lot of artists’ officially released songs, aren’t they?
JL: Well that’s a matter of opinion!
Songs From The Apartment is a lo-fi, stripped down album. How and where were the songs recorded?
JL: They were recorded in my apartment on just a little recorder with an internal microphone. Very rough. They were all songs that were demoed and either not chosen to go into the studio with, or tried in the studio but left off the albums.
Basically before making an album I probably would have 30 or so songs and we’d pick 15-18 to go into the studio with and then 10 or 12 would make the cut.
Some really great ones are never returned to after the initial demo and that’s because they may not fit the feel I’m going for at the time, or it’s a similar idea or sound to a different song that I prefer. For example we recorded Tomorrow In My Mind and Ticket Bought for Time Out For Tomorrow [2019 album] and I felt they both had a similar feel, so I decided on the former.
You’re doing some online gigs on Facebook in the next few days, streamed live from your apartment?What can we expect from the performances?
JL: It’s gonna be interesting, I’ve never live streamed before and never had any interest in doing it.
I had thought about live streaming a show before ‘cos I found myself watching a couple of Lucinda Williams shows on her Facebook page and I loved them. It made me think ‘OK, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad’, but I never got around to doing it.
I think in these strange days we’re all trying to figure out what we can do in the meantime and also try and keep afloat in an industry that has already been suffering for years. I’m doing these online shows for the folks that can’t come and see me and they’re cool with the virtual version for now.
Anyone can watch and I hope they do, but each show will also have a special hello to a country that we no longer will be visiting this spring. I completely understand if it’s not up some people’s alley and they’d rather not tune in. For me, I’m gonna do what I usually do when I’m around the house – play some music. I’ll play some new and old songs, plus some covers if it strikes me.
Let’s talk about some of the songs on the new album. Traveler’s Prayer is one of my favourites. What can you tell me about it? I like the line – ‘trees blow in the Halloween air.’ It’s a very wintry song…
JL: That’s really interesting, as I got a couple of emails from fans in different countries that also love that song. I wrote the words first and set it to music, recorded the demo immediately afterwards and then completely forgot about. That recording is the only time I’ve ever played it. It’s so relaxed and unaffected.
That’s what I love about Songs From The Apartment. Nothing on it was intended to be heard by anyone other than myself or Mike Timmins, who produced the last few albums. It’s also why the guitar is out of tune – ha! I don’t remember the inspiration for that song, but I think the time period of Halloween recurs in my songs because I love that time of year.
‘In these strange days we’re all trying to figure out what we can do to try and keep afloat in an industry that has been suffering for years’
Hoodoo Brown has a Dylan feel. What was the inspiration behind it? It sounds like an outlaw blues song…
JL: Yeah – it’s an outlaw song. I read about Hoodoo Brown who was the leader of a gang in the late 1800s. I just dug the name and made up the rest.
I remember working on that song longer than some of the others and I felt it never got off the ground with the band. I couldn’t get the sound I wanted. This solo version has much more of the energy and urgency that it needed. Actually, that’s probably the Dylan connection – that and the fact there’s a lot of words crammed into some of the lines. I dig a lot of the words and ideas in it.
It was written specifically for the Nonsense side of my album Nonsense and Heartache, so that’s why it has that bluesy, rock ‘n’ roll feel to it.
Poor Man’s Farewell is a beautiful and poignant folky song. Where did that come from?
JL: I don’t really remember, but I think it was on my mind how a lot of us look down on the poor or the homeless and never think about their story. Everyone has a story.
I actually had an idea that it would be a secret song at the end of Nonsense and Heartache. Kind of like Train In Vain from The Clash’s London Calling, which is not listed on the sleeve.
Leaving Now is a sad song that’s about the end of relationship. Can you shed any light on it? I think has an early Dylan feel. It’s folky – almost ragtime…
JL: We tried that one for the Early Riser album, but I don’t think Mike Timmins felt it fitted, or was good enough. I always thought it was catchy, though – you could hear someone covering it. Yeah, you’re probably right. Dylan is such a big influence on me, that there are elements that have and always will continue to show up.
There are quite a few sad songs on the album. Is that a coincidence?
JL: The sad ones are always the best! It definitely wasn’t the concept, but I think I gravitate towards sad songs. So many Everly Brothers songs that I love are really just a drag, aren’t they?
What are you most looking forward to doing when things return to normal?
JL: Seeing my friends, family and the band and playing on stage again in front of people. It’ll be nice to have the UK and European tour and other shows rescheduled to make up for lost time.
The title of your last album, Time Out For Tomorrow, seems eerily prescient in the light of the current situation, doesn’t it?
JL: I know! I couldn’t help but instantly think of that. The album title now has a whole new meaning.
To buy or stream Jerry Leger’s latest album, the digital-only Songs From The Apartment, go to his Bandcamp page here.
For more information on how to watch his streamed live gigs on Facebook – from March 26-April 1, go to https://www.facebook.com/jerrylegermusic
To make a donation, use paypal.me/jerrylegermusic .